Walking is the most popular physical activity among adults, and it’s easy to see why. It requires no special clothes or equipment, and it’s free.
Regular walking can have many health benefits. It may lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. It can strengthen your bones and muscles. It may help you maintain a healthy weight. It might also help lift your mood.
For example, regular brisk walking can help you:
- Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and type 2 diabetes
- Improve cardiovascular fitness
- Strengthen your bones and muscles
- Improve muscle endurance
- Improve your mood, cognition, memory, and sleep
- Improve your balance and coordination
- Reduce stress and tension
Here are some more benefits of walking:
1. Burn calories
Walking can help you burn calories. Burning calories can help you maintain or lose weight. Your actual calorie burn will depend on several factors, including:
walking speed, distance covered, terrain (you’ll burn more calories walking uphill than you’ll burn on a flat surface), and your weight.
2. Eases joint pain
Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
3. Boost your energy
Going for a walk when you’re tired may be a more effective energy boost than grabbing a cup of coffee.
Walking increases oxygen flow through the body. It can also increase levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Those are the hormones that help elevate energy levels.
4. Extend your life
Walking at a faster pace could extend your life. Researchers found that walking at an average pace compared to a slow pace resulted in a 20 percent reduced risk of overall death.
But walking at a brisk or fast pace (at least 4 miles per hour) reduced the risk by 24 percent. The study looked at the association of walking at a faster pace with factors like overall causes of death, cardiovascular disease, and death from cancer.
5. It boosts immune function.
Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
The faster, farther, and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits. For example, you may start as an average walker, and then work your way up to walking faster and walking a mile in a shorter amount of time than an average walker, similar to power walkers. This can be a great way to get aerobic activity, improve your heart health and increase your endurance while burning calories.
Tips for staying safe while walking
Proper walking technique
Turning your normal walk into a fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements.
- Your head is up. You’re looking forward, not at the ground.
- Your neck, shoulders, and back are relaxed, not stiffly upright.
- You’re swinging your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows. A little pumping with your arms is OK.
- Your stomach muscles are slightly tightened and your back is straight, not arched forward or backward.
- You’re walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.
To ensure your safety while walking, follow these tips:
- Walk-in areas are designated for pedestrians. Look for well-lit areas if possible.
- If you walk in the evening or early morning hours, wear a reflective vest or light so cars can see you.
- Wear sturdy shoes with good heel and arch support.
- Drink plenty of water before and after your walk to stay hydrated.
- Wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn, even on cloudy days.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing: Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and gear appropriate for all types of weather, such as layers in cooler weather.
- Warm-up. Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for exercise.
- Cool down. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down.
- After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. If you’d rather stretch before you walk, remember to warm up first.
- Wearing a pedometer while walking: A pedometer measures the number of steps you take. You can use it to measure your movement throughout a day and compare it to other days, or recommended amounts. This may motivate you to move more.
Making walking a pleasure
Some suggestions to help make regular walking a pleasurable form of physical activity include:
- varying where you walk
- walking the dog
- walking with friends
- joining a walking club.
A dog that needs regular exercise gives you the motivation to walk every day. You might like the companionship too. If you don’t have a dog and aren’t planning on getting one, consider offering to walk a neighbor’s dog from time to time.
Walking with others
Walking with other people can turn a bout of exercise into an enjoyable social occasion. Suggestions include:
- Schedule a regular family walk – this is a great way to pass on healthy habits to your children or grandchildren, and to spend time together while getting fit at the same time.
- If you are walking with children, make sure the route and length of time spent walking are appropriate to their age.
- Babies and toddlers enjoy long walks in the pram. Take the opportunity to point out items of interest to young ones, such as vehicles, flowers, and other pedestrians.
- Ask neighbors or friends if they would like to join you on your walks. Think of starting a walking group.
As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can’t set aside that much time, try several short sessions of activity throughout the day. Any amount of activity is better than none at all. Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide a health benefit.
Remember it’s OK to start slowly — especially if you haven’t been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes.
To sum up, regular walking can have many health benefits. It may lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. It can strengthen your bones and muscles. It may help you maintain a healthy weight.
Walking is low impact, requires minimal equipment, can be done at any time of day, and can be performed at your own pace. You can get out and walk without worrying about the risks associated with some more vigorous forms of exercise. Walking is also a great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, elderly, or who haven’t exercised in a long time. So, start walking today.